Members meet in Wodonga

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The National Road Transport Association (NatRoad) held its second Regional Forum for 2021 in Wodonga on Thursday, 22 April 2021. The Forum was attended by members and partners with speakers from the National Transport Commission, the Victorian Police Heavy Vehicle Unit, NatRoad and PACCAR Australia.

Luis Gutierrez, Manager Productivity and Safety at the National Transport Commission spoke about the growing problem of driver distraction and the inadequate way in which the current road rules deal with this issue. The current road rules were developed in the 1990s when the technology now available was only dreamt of.  Distracted driving is a factor in around 16% of all serious crashes. Engagement in secondary tasks which take a driver’s ‘eyes and mind off the road’ and ‘hand off the wheel’ have been found to increase crash risk. Luis mentioned that taking your eyes off the road for more than two seconds can double the crash risk and outlined some recent offences that had been introduced in jurisdictions to combat distracted driving, particularly those targeted to stopping hand-held mobile phone use whilst driving.

Luis said the National Transport Commission’s work in developing technology neutral road rules for classes of technology.  Instead of looking at specific devices, like mobile phones, smartwatches, in-vehicle infotainment systems, etc., NTC classified technology devices into four broad categories. These categories are inbuilt and mounted devices, wearables, motorcycle helmets and portable devices (non-mounted). The road rules being considered by Transport Ministers later this year will apply different criteria to each category in setting new offences.

Detective Acting Sergeant Robert Mitchell, from the Victorian Police Heavy Vehicle Unit, provided a detailed explanation of the work of the Heavy Vehicle Crime Investigation Unit within the Victorian Police (VicPol).  He indicated that the unit was very busy with 1680 heavy vehicle collisions reported in 2019-2020. He indicated that education was an important part of the work of VicPol as well as its role in enforcement. VicPol wanted to work with industry to head off many problems in advance.  Robert spoke about the different roles of police: adversarial when investigating criminal matters and inquisitorial when dealing with coronial matters. The latter was more a search for the truth rather than seeking a conviction.

Greater co-operation with Vic WorkSafe was currently in play, with the new offence of industrial manslaughter providing maximum penalties of 25 years in jail and a financial penalty of up to $16.5m. He gave details about the method of enforcement in drug driving cases with VicPol having undertaken 40,000 drug tests in 2015 and 150,000 tests in 2019.  He also outlined how members should ensure that if they have drug and alcohol policies in place.

Richard Calver, NatRoad Adviser’s presentation was about three issues: first the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the industry’s costs and operations and the role NatRoad played in providing, at some stages of the pandemic, almost daily bulletins about cross border issues.  Secondly, he spoke about the varied regulation of signage in Australia and how nationally agreed and better signage needed to be in place. Thirdly, he discussed NatRoad’s role in providing advice to members on workplace relations focusing on the provision of rostered days off under the two major transport modern awards.

Paul Wiffrie, Dealer Development Manager PACCAR Australia spoke about the role that the organisation played in giving back to the community through organisations such as NatRoad and Healthy Heads in Trucks and Sheds. Paul spoke of how the dealer network continued to invest in local communities and that hundreds of millions of dollars in equipment and facilities would be invested over the next decade.

The next Regional Forum will be held in Wollongong on 26 May 2021. NatRoad members are encouraged to attend these events to give feedback and take part in the discussion of issues that affect the industry.